I only had one lunch slot to fill this week, cause I didn’t really get off my ass to plan the schedule until Saturday at 2pm, so I was faced with the prospect of trying to choose the best, most interesting place out of a bunch. This was no small problem, since many of the strip joints were serving what sounded like awesome meals. But the place I ended up choosing was not only serving only dishes not on their everyday menu, but we’re also serving pork belly, and call me a sucker but that pretty much sealed the deal.
Due Forni is located in one of those weird, anonymous office park strip malls that seem to pervade Summerlin. One of my favorite off strip restaurants, The Vintner Grill, is similarly tucked in such a strip mall. The restaurant is quite large, and they have a cool patio area that they can window off to enclose. The interior is pretty simple and contemporary, with a lot of glass,some wood and solid, muted colors. Since it was a nice day, I chose to sit out on the patio and it was beautifully pleasant, the windows cracked and a nice breeze blowing through.
The restaurant advertises “authentic” pizza making techniques, both Neapolitan and Roman. The difference, according to my menu, exists in the cooking temperature and time, giving the crusts different properties of chewy and crispy, respectively. I read an article on the obsession of authenticity in “Lucky Peach” recently that touched on the example how Napoli has quite literally legislated how one makes proper Neopolitan pizza: “A strict controlling body issues a denominazione di origine controllata in order to identify what is and isn’t proper in Neapolitan pie … The goal of these measures is a worthy one – to ensure that an important piece of culture survives intact amid a world of dizzying changes. But in insisting on one true way, are governments killing the living spirit that came up with the dish in the first place? Are restaurateurs doing the same by opening “authentic” … Neapolitan pizza joints?” (Lucky Peach Vol 1, Kliman 85) In short, does it matter that this place makes “approved” and “authentic” pizza, when these standards are really just fictions and fusions in and of themselves? And frankly, when it comes to Due Forni, while the spirit of authenticity may be at heart in the cooking methods and techniques, the meaning of the word authentic is taken quite liberally when it comes to the ingredients used.
But none of that really matters to me today, since the choices of the restaurant week menu are pizza or the pork belly panino. And we all know which I came for. My appetizer was a “strachiattela” which I had always assumed was an ice cream (Edit: turns out this is also what the combo of cheese and cream on the inside of burrata is called. Go figure). That they were using Italian sounding names for dishes that didn’t seem to line up with the food on the plate was a red flag, but it should have been pretty good, in theory. A bed of pillowy burrata sat underneath some roughly chopped basil, some roasted or grilled cherry tomatoes, two pieces of cooked and crispy sopprasetta, and a crostini.
It failed a bit in execution. The sopprasetta seem to be deep fried, almost like a wafer. Unfortunately, that seemed to take most of the taste out of it, and it was really the only salty thing on the plate. The tomatoes were good, sweet and a bit acidic, and the burrata held up the dish almost all on its own, but the crostini had a texture and temperature like it had been cooked off hours ago, and been thrown on there as an afterthought. All in all, it wasn’t a well balanced plate, and despite the burrata, it wasn’t a highlight of the meal.
The panino, however, was delicious; if they only served this, I would make the 25 minute drive on a regular basis. The bread had the consistency of pizza crust that they had made themselves. It was crispy and chewy, a perfect vehicle for this sandwich. On the inside was some caramelized onions, some fontina cheese, and a fantastic braised then roasted pork belly. The problem with braised pork belly is that it can often be to much of a one-note ingredient. It’s fatty, rich, and porky, and that can often overwhelm someones taste buds, even if it’s not a really strong flavor. However, the pork belly in my sandwich had some char on it, and they had some crispy skin on it too, breaking up not only the textural monotony, but also the flavor monotony. It was smoky, and I could taste the oven or grill, if you know what I mean. The onions provided an earthy base on which the sandwich was built, and the cheese… Well if it were me, I would have chosen a sharper cheese. It got lost a bit in there. But it did provide a creamy note to the fatty background, which made eating all the fat seem that much more delicious.
It was served with an uninteresting side salad of lightly dressed mixed greens.
The dessert was a caramel panna cotta with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, and some cracked walnuts sprinkled over it. It was a curious dessert, almost two in one. The panna cotta could have stood on its own, maybe with some whipped cream to offset the sweetness of the caramel. Instead, it was a pain in the ass to eat the frozen ice cream perched on top of the delicate pudding. I just kept pushing this ball of frozen mass deeper and deeper into the panna cotta, which caused the pudding to squirt out the sides of the too-small cup. Logistical issues aside, it was good, if a bit uninteresting.
The service was quite good, even overly attentive, despite the fact I was the only person on the patio for most of my meal. My waitress was polite, good humored and helpful, telling me that the pizza on the restaurant week menu showed up more often than the panino, so if I had to choose, I’d be more likely to see the pizza again.
Based on what I had, this place is a very solid choice for a casual meal. If the bread is any indication of their pizza crust, I have full faith in the fact that their pizza is very good, and probably compares favorably to Settobello, in Green Valley. Their ingredients, however, are less classically Italian, so if you’ve ever hankered for duck confit or braised short rib (neither really an Italian preparation) on your classic Roman or Neapolitan style pizza, this is the place for you. They also have a fairly expansive wine list, and I heard the waiter for the next table explain some options to a wine the couple had liked but was not in the cellar. Of course, I don’t have to tell you this, but I may not be the best source to trust for strength of wine cellar quality.
All in all, I’m happy this was the one lunch I did for restaurant week. At best, Due Forni is a solid restaurant to go with a small group for casual pizza and wine. At the very least, I had a great pork belly sandwich.
The patio was fantastic, the perfect place for lunch or dinner in the spring and autumn, and maybe even in the summer.
Service was professional, attentive, friendly and polite, not stuffy or pretentious. It’s a comfortable atmosphere to eat in.
Food was all of relatively high quality, especially the sandwich. Some dishes suffered from a lack of balance or concept. Come here for the pizza and baked items, not for the accoutrements.
Price $15-$25 for an entree, most pizzas in the $12-$17 range (personal size)